Centre for Continuing Education

Out of Africa Course: The Fossil Evidence for Human Evolution

Archaeology. Unearth new discoveries.

Learn about human activity of the past the smart way with Archaeology courses at the University of Sydney.

Archaeological research has been able to identify important examples of the evolution of modern humans from ape-like ancestors. Important finds were made by Louis Leakey in Olduvai Gorge which made it clear that early humans arose in east Africa. Subsequent finds, including the famous ‘Lucy’ in Ethiopia have made it clear Australopithecus afarensis is out oldest direct hominin ancestor. This course traces the evolution of humans using the latest fossil and DNA evidence.


At the completion of this history course, participants should be able to:

  1. Understand the changes which took place in human skeletons over time
  2. Look at the changes in culture amongst early man
  3. Understand how archaeologists reconstruct the human form from bones
  4. Study the recent advances in the study of DNA.


This course will cover the following topics:

The Earliest Hominins

Modern humans are descended from a common ancestor with gorillas and chimpanzees. A number of fossils have been identified as probable members of the hominin lineage. They include Sahelanthropus tchadensis which dates from 7 million years ago. Another probable ancient ancestor was Ardapithecus with examples dating from 4.4 million years ago.


The Australopithecines arose around 4 million years ago and are likely to have been the ancestors of modern humans (genus Homo). Evidence is found in Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa. Undoubtedly the best known example of Auustralopithecus is the famous ‘Lucy’. Short in stature, these early hominins are known to have walked upright in savannah environments.

Homo habilis and Homo Rudolfensis

The genus Homo appears to have evolved around 2.3 million year ago. Homo habilis was the first hominin to make stone tools. The brains of these hominins were about the size of that of a chimpanzee but their main adaptation was bipedalism which arose through adaptation to living on the ground.

Homo Erectus and Homo Ergaster

The arrival of Homo erectus saw cranial capacity double. Homo erectus was the first hominin to leave Aftica and this species spread into Asia and Europe between 1.3 and 1.8 million years ago. These homins were the first to use fire and complex tools. One species of Homo erectus, known as Homo ergaster, appears to have stayed in Africa and evolved into Homo sapiens.

Homo Sapiens

A number of transitional fossils are known for the beginning of Homo sapiens. Around 500,000 years ago they evolved into a number of variants including Homo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis. As modern humans spread out of Africa around 100,000 years ago they encountered other hominins including Homo neanderthalensis and the recently discovered Denisovans. There is much controversy as to whether modern humans replaced these earlier species of interbred to contribute genetic material to modern humans.

Intended Audience

This Archaeology course is suitable for personal interest adult learners, university students and active retirees who have an interest in Archaeology and human evolution.

Delivery Style

This Archaeology course in Sydney will be delivered as a face-to-face, interactive lecture where questions and open discussions will be encouraged.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion